SP Mulroy: Four Poems
Note from the author: Each of these short prose poems creates a mythical scenario or slightly surreal snapshot featuring a dead queer Hollywood figure. My goal with the experiment of these pieces is to recreate the panic and desire one feels while closeted, hinting at the toxicity of masculinity in a culture that celebrated these men while refusing to acknowledge their sexuality.
Lawrence Olivier takes you to the reservoir behind the state park to go skinny dipping after midnight
His voice slithers with accent as his clothes slide from his body, reckless in the darkened wood. Come
on, he says. Do not be so American. I’ll meet you at the bottom. Gracefully, he dives beneath the black reflection
of the sky that is the surface of the water. You take your time disrobing, fold your trousers carefully,
and stack them with your shirt and shoes upon a nearby tree stump. You toe the water, find it isn’t
cold. Diving in, you’re shocked to see it isn’t even very dark below. Olivier is where he said he’d be,
sitting at the bottom of the lake, his naked body stretched across a throne of light. He motions you to
join him with an outstretched hand. You swim, stroking downward, kicking at the world above, trying
desperately to reach him. Maybe you are still there, reaching. Maybe someday, you’ll arrive.
Henry Willson offers you a lifetime supply of Chesterfield Kings in exchange for your immortal soul
and you take a moment to consider everything you know about god. In undergrad, you read the old
divine philosophers, learned how they spent time measuring the soul, trying to calculate its size and
weight, but never its intrinsic value. That, it seemed, was just beyond the reach of reasonable doubt.
But still, you think, how much is mine worth, really? You ponder casually the suffering that your humanity has
brought to you, real as any cancer, but without the pleasure of a modern vice. Certainly, the specter of
your conscience is worth no more than four times its weight in lightly toasted, filter-less tobacco. The
smell of it, the yanking smoke like a come-hither finger, cures. Did I mention, Willson says, his smile
coming into focus through the smoky open window of his curbside limousine, the devil’s cigarettes are
always fresh? He reaches out to you, a standard contract in one hand. In the other hand, a pen. It glows a
dull red, like the cherry end of a cigar. Sign here.
Montgomery Clift passes you a flask of bathtub gin at your brother’s funeral
You take a swig, and fight to hold back choking on the cheap booze as it slams against your throat.
Your brother always was a drunk. Monty too, whose face keeps shifting as you gaze intently at him,
from the one god gave him to the one constructed under surgeon’s knives after his Ford convertible
caressed itself into a tree after a party at Liz Taylor’s house. Just go on and finish that, he says to you, his
tone half mischief and half comfort. I don’t think I can, you mutter, hot tears surfacing. Across your
brother’s casket, you can see your sister mouthing silently, I love you, as she looks with pity at the
water streaming from your eyes. Come on, slick, says Monty, just a little bit too loud. Double down, or else lie
down and die, just like your loser brother.
Valentino plays the cello on the deck of a sinking ship as you roll a joint for you to share
Something kind of sweet and slow, morose if anything, but absent from the panic that surrounds
you both. He plays and plays and folds his face with concentration. Run your tongue across the rolling
paper like a bow across his strings. A thick beam falls beside you, blazing with a fire that you lean into
to light your rollie with. You breathe, and in comes the dank kiss of reefer smoke. It feels like
swallowing an arm that rips your heart out, and your fear of death along with it. Stoned, you moan
with satisfaction and it sounds just like the cello. Rudy, you say, holding out the joint within reach of
his face. He doesn’t hesitate, just reaches out his neck and mouth to take it from you with his supple
lips, and puffing on it, never says a word, and never stops his playing as the world around you burns.
SP Mulroy is a nationally recognized writer and performer, and an award winning professor. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, , and the recipient of residencies at Villa Sarkia and The Kerouac Project.